When I was a kid, Gatorade came out with this popular commercial entitled, “I wanna be like Mike”. In the background of the commercial showing Michael Jordan making some unbelievable moves, the words that played were –‘sometimes I dream that he is me, you’ve got to see that’s how I dream to be, like Mike….if I could be like Mike’.
Michael Jordan was an amazing, once in a generation, sports phenomenon. The things that he was able to do on the basketball court were amazing. While there is still a healthy degree of admiration, we think that there is a new group of emerging superstars. These people don’t dribble a basketball or throw a football. Instead, they write lines of code that make the world more connected, enable artificial intelligence and deliver autonomous vehicles. While their skills are more academic, the underlying principles of what made Michael Jordan a star are also present in these solution developers.
One of the most compelling aspects of sports stars is their scalability. You have a small group of players whose talents are broadcast to millions of people on a weekly basis. This scalability principle is what solidifies their unique talent. If there were 100’s of basketball teams and each one had someone as talented as Michael Jordan, he wouldn’t have received a billion dollar lifetime contract from Nike or become a billionaire through his ownership and management of the Charlotte Hornets. There is a similar dynamic that exists within technology. The interconnected nature of the web with its ability to connect the entire world population through networking is like broadcast television on steroids. Instead of becoming a North America phenomenon and then scaling to other international destinations, one can develop technologies that are global first. We’ve already seen the initial indications of this with the founders of companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Twitter and Square. However, over the next several years, we will begin to see an emergence of top talent that is either connected to the underlying distribution or that works to create their own distributed path. Regardless of the path, the important characteristic is the scalability of the solution that is enabled by the network.
Companies that produce products and services are always seeking talent to help them better connect with their customers. As top tech talent creates the innovations that drive the solutions of tomorrow, we will see an increasing desire to develop powerful branding campaigns that connect the dots. For a company like Nike, they have built their entire brand on the talent of athletes that could motivate the next generation. Can you imagine if Apple (computers) or Microsoft (software) or Amazon (web services) began to promote top technologists as the ones who used their products to create their inventions? Similar to how emerging athletes bought Nike because they wanted to be like Mike, emerging technologists may be convinced that they can only host their new innovation on Amazon services. Eventually, these top technologists would begin working with the technology infrastructure providers to create the Zuckerberg series of web servers or the Dorsey series of supercomputers.
Basketball was invented by Dr. James Naismith in 1891. It wasn’t until almost 100 years later that the conditions were right for a sports phenomenon like Michael Jordan to emerge. Just 5 years before Michael Jordan was drafted, a small company called ESPN was started. The commercialization of sports now had a star, a distribution network (television stations) and a sport focused suite of shows that could elevate the game watchers beyond mere fan status to that of fanatic. For the tech world, Twitch is the closest example of what ESPN represented to the sports world. While Twitch is currently focused on live-streaming gaming, as the programming begins to evolve they will get closer and closer to elevating tech stars to mainstream heroes. In fact, many of the most successful game players have an understanding of the underlying code behind how the games were created and use this knowledge for their advantage. This is no different from Michael Jordan studying game films of his opponent to understand how he could exploit their weakness to his advantage. It’s also important to remember that the fundamentals of the web were invented in the 1980’s and the precursor to the internet as we know it came to be in 1990. We are less than 30 years removed and there is already infrastructure in place that will elevate the next generation of technologists.
One of the most exciting parts about the rising influence of technology stars is that there becomes an avenue for those who may not have been physically gifted to perform at the highest level. As kids with a gift for coding begin to build amazing inventions and innovations that creates a magnetic effect for those who come behind them to demonstrate their talents. This increasing balanced path is best for everyone as kids see a path based on their abilities whether it is physical or academic. And, in some cases, there are kids who have both and this maximizes their optionality.